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Officers rally at Nassau jail, contending safety issues

The Nassau County Correction Officers Benevolent Association held

The Nassau County Correction Officers Benevolent Association held a major rally outside the Nassau County Correctional Facility on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016 in East Meadow. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hundreds of correction officers rallied in front of Nassau County’s jail Tuesday to protest what union officials called security lapses that endanger lives – contentions Sheriff Michael Sposato later denied.

Holding signs with slogans saying “Nassau Jail Unsafe,” and “The Sheriff is Deaf,” about 300 correction officers marched in front of the East Meadow facility for more than an hour.

Their union president, Brian Sullivan, said the rally was to “expose a jail administration” that doesn’t “have any correctional sense,” and that he’d appeal for hearings before the county legislature if the security situation got any worse.

“We’re here to shout from behind these walls a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Sheriff Michael Sposato and Deputy Undersheriff of Security Philip Zorn, two individuals whose only goal in managing this facility is to cut its operating costs, cut common sense security measures and ignore security breaches with no regard for the consequences,” Sullivan said.

Sposato later told Newsday by phone he believed the rally was a reaction to his recent order that established 15-minute patrols in inmate housing areas where previously there were 30-minute patrols.

“Their concern is they want to do less work than I want them to do,” he said. “The union looks for ways to create overtime and I look for ways to manage and keep the jail safe.”

However, Sullivan said the increased patrols were the result of a “maintenance screw-up” created by an administrative decision, and that rank-and-file employees were being punished unfairly.

The union leader Tuesday cited alarms that aren’t operational on two sections of jail fencing that’s designed to help prevent any inmate escapes as one example of a security risk.

On Monday, Sposato told Newsday it was his decision to keep the motion-activated alarms out-of-service in a busy jail area, saying they weren’t needed and other security measures were in place in the location.

But Sullivan told rally attendees that “things that break here, don’t get fixed,” and also spoke about broken jail elevators. He also said there should be an official search policy that says anyone going into the jail can be randomly searched for contraband – not just with the sheriff’s prior approval.

Sullivan added that a facility-wide contraband search should have happened after the February arrest of a former jail nurse for allegedly smuggling razors and synthetic marijuana to inmates. He cited a series of inmate slashings earlier this year, saying it was “only a matter of time” before inmates “turn around and start slashing our officers.”

Sposato countered criticisms later by saying that the jail “is managed very well.”

“I don’t manage the jail based on their confidence,” the sheriff said. “I have to manage the jail my way.”

But Sullivan warned of dire consequences without reform.

“Just provide us with the tools and support to do this job right before one of us ends up in this box,” he said of a flag-draped coffin that was set up by a rally podium.

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